Picking the lesser of two evils is sometimes what we must do:

You will find Christians now and then slamming the idea that in many key areas we might have to choose between various evils. They think the idea of choosing the lesser of two evils is a sell-out and a matter of ungodly compromise. Are they right? Well, it depends on the issue, but far too often we really have no other choice than to run with one evil that is not quite as bad as another evil.

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This is certainly true in politics, elections, public policy, legislation, and so on – but more on that in a moment. It is also true in so many other areas. Indeed, most of life involves making choices between various options, none of which are perfect or ideal or without some sort of problems.

The sort of world that we live in

In other words, it is imperative that we rightly understand what sort of world that we live in today. And the Christian knows – or should know – the answer to this: We live in a world that is fallen, flawed, fallible, finite, and imperfect. We live in a world, in other words, that is everywhere affected by the curse.

This condition will fully not go away until Christ returns. Sure, we now ‘live between the ages,’ in which Christ at his first coming started the process of undoing the results of the Fall, the curse, and so on. But this will not be completely and finally realised and achieved until he comes again. See more on this here.

So until Christ returns, basically all of life will be less than ideal and we will have to make do with the imperfect options that are available to us. Consider three examples of this. When you walk down the aisles of a supermarket, you hopefully check things out a bit first.

You will examine the prices, the value, the ingredients, and other aspects. No one item will be utterly perfect, but you seek to get the best of the lot for your needs. None of the items will be ideal in terms of price, value for money, and content, but one can get by in life with such less-than-perfect options.

Picking a church home is a little more important of course, but the same principle applies. As we should know, there is no perfect church. That is because there is no perfect pastor and no perfect Christian. Yes, some might be better than others, but in a fallen world, you are forced to choose between various imperfect options. And as the old joke goes, if you are looking to join a perfect church, as soon as you do it will then no longer be perfect!

Another area we could look at involves choosing a spouse. While a loving husband might kindly say of his wife, ‘She is perfect,’ we all know this is loving exaggeration. There is no perfect wife or husband for the simple reason that there is no perfect human being on planet earth. Only Jesus was the perfect human – and perfect God.

Yes, some believers might claim that God has one and only one ideal marriage partner for you. Other believers might argue that any number of partners might be a suitable and godly option. I will not enter into that particular debate here, except to say that even if one person might be God’s perfect will for you, perhaps it is possible we might miss out on that person.

The Unlucky Country - Zimmermann & Moens

Government, politics, etc.

But as mentioned, this issue of choosing the lesser evil often arises when it comes to discussions of political matters, elections, candidates, and so on. As but one example, just moments ago I came upon a meme on the social media that said this:

The government we have today

Is a direct reflection

Of you choosing the lesser of two evils

Now a number of things can be said about this. It is possible that the one who made this meme or said this thing is a radical libertarian or anarchist – one who might believe that ALL government is only always evil. Well, if that is your belief, then yeah, no matter who or what you choose, you will always end up with evil.

But the biblical Christian knows that it is God who instituted civil government to help us live, survive and perhaps even thrive in a fallen world. So rejecting all forms of civil government is not the path the Christian can take. And some other issues can be raised here.

The believer is to be a good citizen and that includes voting in elections. As the decidedly libertarian Ludwig von Mises said: “The first duty of a citizen of a democratic community is to educate himself and to acquire the knowledge needed for dealing with civic affairs. The franchise is not a privilege but a duty and a moral responsibility. The voter is virtually an officeholder; his office is the supreme one and implies the highest obligation.” 

And even with our choices at the ballot box, the Christian knows that God is still sovereign and can make use of our votes to bring about various outcomes. This can include allowing an elected official to be an instrument of his judgment. It is the “we get the rulers that we deserve” idea. See more on this here.

But an element of truth in this meme follows on from what I said above. If there are no perfect frozen pizzas, no perfect churches, and no perfect marriage partners, then guess what? There will be NO perfect politicians, political parties, or human governments. But living in the sort of world that we do live in (and not some make-believe world), will mean that we must make do with what we have on offer.

This should be easy enough to understand. The Christian will know that neither Dutton not Albanese here in Australia is perfect, although there may well be a stronger case to be made for the one than the other. The same with Trump and Biden in the US. Many believers might shrug their shoulders and say a pox on both their houses.

Yes, some Christians might well prefer some other options here. But we have to deal with the reality we find ourselves in. Sure, we might pray that a better (but not perfect) candidate comes along in the weeks ahead. But if in November it is Trump and Biden primarily (along with lesser lights such as Kennedy), then that is what we will have to work with.

And to think this way is NOT to sell one’s soul to the devil nor to engage in sinful compromise. It is to be both biblical and realistic. It recognises that we will always have to make choices between various less-than-perfect options. That is how life works until Christ comes back.

So in that sense we are ALL the lesser of two evils. We are all fallen sinners. Yes, some of us happen to be saved by grace. While some of us might be a bit better than others, when we compare ourselves with God, NONE of us stack up. We are ALL fallen, finite and fallible. As Paul said in Romans 3, quoting from Psalm 14 and Psalm 53:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
    no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
    “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
   in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.”
    “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

So we are all evil. Yes, Christ saves sinners, and then we become a work in progress, slowly becoming less selfish and sinful and evil, but never obtaining full perfection in this life. Thus to claim we should never choose between the lesser of two (or more) evils means in effect to never choose any single one of us for anything.

One case study

There would be many examples of when a believer is seemingly forced to choose between two evil or immoral options. Not to choose and not to act can also be evil as well. So when Rahab chose to lie to those seeking the Israelite spies, she was seeking to choose between two evil options.

Of course we have a much more recent but quite similar situation when it came to Corrie ten Boom seeking to hide Jews from the Nazis. Biblical, theological and ethical considerations of course arise in such situations, but that cannot here all be discussed. However, see this piece for more on this.

So the point is, it is not always wrong to choose between the lesser of two evils, and often that is all we have available to choose from. Unless we choose to live in a cave, isolated from everyone else (but that too can be an evil choice since it means you cannot readily love your neighbour as yourself), there is really no getting around all this.

Yes, we always need to pray for wisdom and understanding and discernment and grace when we find ourselves having to make such difficult choices, but that is life in a fallen world.

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Bill Muehlenberg teaches ethics, apologetics and theology at several Melbourne Bible Colleges. His independent blog, Culture Watch, has over 5,000 articles commenting on the major cultural, social and political issues of the day.

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